The topic of teaching and Classical Fencing has been floating around, coincidentally in several places. As a fencer who has been “teaching” for 10 years now I have a few thoughts about this topic. Disclaimer first: I have been fencing for well over half my life and I’m not yet 31 years old. Because of an intrinsic, seemingly biological connection to fencing, I often find it difficult to remain calm and dispassionate when talking about fencing. I truly do not know why. And yet there it is. So as I continue to talk/write about fencing here please keep in mind that – while the words may not adequately reflect it – I am trying very hard to be at once, lucid and nice.
In the very tiny world in which I began fencing there were no teachers, masters nor instructors. There were guys who either volunteered or who were volunteered to show the new people what to do – and they had about 8 weeks (about 8 hours) to do it. Some were better than others. Some only louder.
As I continued to survive despite inadequate fencing nutrition it dawned on me that if I ever wanted to get better – if I ever truly wanted to understand what it was I was trying to do I was going to have to find other fencers who were after the same type of training and better yet – a place where they were actually doing what – in my mind – must be the best fencing environment.
I traveled everywhere I could in the region seeking – and find it I did not. Actually what I found was very depressing. You ever look at people listening to country music like they’re having a great time and wonder why? That’s how I felt. I saw hundreds of fencers all having a swell time but I couldn’t figure out why.
I couldn’t locate them, so I decided to train them.
Since I was not an instructor and since I had nothing but my experience and motivation to improve I formed my training upon ridiculously simple principles of movement, body and blade. Examining the greatest effect produced by the smallest effort. Form and Function (thank god for art history).
I found myself at a place where I had to teach – everybody had just signed up and knew nothing! I couldn’t fence them! What sense would that have made? I couldn’t ethically recommend that they go someplace else – when there was nowhere else I felt right to send them. So once again basic principles guided us all through a process at the end of which I discovered that it was possible to teach another person how to fence. Not only that, but you could get reasonably decent results.
Then the internet opened up the larger world of fencing to us all and we took notice: other people were not only out there doing what we were doing, but they had been at it for a longer time!
From two directions I take my stand to elevate the role of the fencer, not the fencing master/teacher:
- The shear poverty of quality fencing out there. it’s easy for people to ruminate about the sad state our fencing world will be in after the current masters depart this mortal coil – but please – look around – the fencing isn’t that great right now while they’re here! logic dictates that there must be something each of us can do – beyond a personal devotion to trying better ourselves – to improve the quality of the fencing.
- The cult of the master, while correctly admiring knowledge and seeking it out, is lopsided – or perhaps, top heavy. the world is a larger place and a handful of masters cannot have the same impact on fencing as they once did. even those trying their best by traveling to organised workshops and seminars end up failing – attendance is too high and anything more than a skim of the material often leaves the attendee in no better position than before.
There is a responsibility with skill and experience – to put it to a greater use. Fence and continue to fence, but take time every week to help somebody else to fence. Don’t wait by the deathbed waiting for permission and don’t hock the family farm to pursue a degree. If you don’t have the skills, work on them. Train harder.
Train Harder. Train Harder. Train Harder.
And then start helping others. You may find one day that you need help. Look for it.
And for all the carping out there – knock it off. Spend more time TRAINING HARDER. The CFS has no pretention about having a fencing master, nor do we relish in our liberty from one. Thats just how it is. It’s doesn’t keep us from training as hard as we can as often as we can. I have no pretention about being a fencing teacher – I just happen to have to do that job once in a while because people keep asking me to (and I like to be called Provost – its nothing fancy – it just means I’m the dork in charge of the stuff nobody else wants to be in charge of!). Heck, we don’t even advertise anymore. No shingles being put out over here. Most of the CFS knows that I have an unwritten policy to ignore the first 3 requests from a person looking for classes. You want to confuse that with trying to be something I’m not then go for it.
So, you may say, Dave, I can point to places and times when you’ve ridiculed others for doing exactly what you’ve told them to do up there! You would be right. But that’s only because, in my humble opinion, those fencers couldn’t fence their way out of a paper bag let alone teach somebody else. This is where it gets tricky: have the skill and the motivation (and the mental disorder) to teach – then do it; if not, don’t! Keep training until you have the skills and then reconsider the idea of teaching. Ask yourself why you want to teach. If you find yourself in Inner Dolpo then yeah, yer probably going to have to train a local how to fence to keep your practice up. If you’re looking to be the next alpha male in the group then piss off. Sure, I got problems with other guys trying to teach and at first they look a lot like me in terms of what they’re trying to do. But then, why do their students end up coming to me for instruction? Why do their students consistently under perform? Why have they not yet themselves attained a new level of comprehension?
Standards – eh, they already exist. You know good fencing when you see it, when you fence it. Standards for teaching – you can tell by the fencing. Now this advice won’t serve for anybody trying to start a legacy or a new cult, but then again most fencing advice doesn’t.